Recession = less death?

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The effect of economic recession on population health:

Economic recessions have paradoxical effects on the mortality trends of populations in rich countries. Contrary to what might have been expected, economic downturns during the 20th century were associated with declines in mortality rates. In terms of business cycles, mortality is procyclical, meaning it goes up with economic expansions and down with contractions, and not countercyclical (the opposite), as expected. So while most nations enjoyed sustained declines in mortality during the last century, the pace of the decline has been slower during economic booms and greater during so-called busts. The first rigorous studies demonstrating this trend have appeared only in the past 9 years, although the concept is not new. In contrast, for poor countries, shared economic growth appears to improve health by providing the means to meet essential needs such as food, clean water and shelter, as well access to basic health care services. But after a country reaches $5000 to $10 000 gross national product (GNP) per capita (or gross domestic product or gross national income per capita, all of which are similar for our purposes here), few health benefits arise from further economic growth…Health trends in Sweden illustrate this effect.

Greg Cochran told me about this phenomenon in regards to the Great Depression last year.

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  1. Justifications for economic growth became an issue when the city of Bakersfield decided that they wanted to put residential units in the Ten Sections Oil field. I worked on the factual allegations portion of the complaint, and one of the main sources of controversy was that the city of Bakersfield felt that their need for economic growth justified the development. We thought that was strange because they had already granted some 50,000 residential units permission to be built, and their projected need for growth was some 30,000ish number. This was some of the first exposure I got to environmental impact reports. I recognized, in advocating for the desert kit fox and other species that were inhabiting the to-be-developed space that I did not know how to ascribe significance to the impacts to the protected species which occupied this region. So what if the elderberry long-horn beetle was discovered…am I going to be able to get a judge to rule that they can’t develop 600 residential units because a beetle was found on a several-hundred-acre parcel? A more salient focal point was the fact that new global warming legislation had been passed, and california is trying to go back to pre-1995 levels of carbon emission over some time period or something. The San Joaquin valley already has bad air problems. These problems are going to get worse if they keep building roads and driving cars on these roads and concentrating more exhaust pipes burning fossil fuels inside of the valley. The city felt that the “projected economic growth” outweighed all the various environmental considerations. I think it is very important to understand how to balance economic growth considerations against the interests of the species already occupying a given domain.

  2. Suicide rates have been known to drop paradoxically under stressful circumstances. And I would expect travel-related fatal accidents as well as workplace accidents to be tied to economic activity. On the other hand, murder rates seem to rise and fall with unemployment, up to a point…

  3. Perhaps our appetite for all forms of risk taking, not just the economic variety, is suppressed during difficult times. Regarding the numbers about suicide I think Woody Allen gets it: “Where I grew up… in Brooklyn, nobody committed suicide… you know, everyone was too unhappy.” And – “I was in analysis. I was suicidal. As a matter of fact, I would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss.” I recall another, though I can’t find the quote, that I think really hits the mark. It went something like: My mother wanted to kill herself but she was too busy trying to keep us fed and clothed to get around to it.

  4. Actually, bbartlog, from what I’ve heard there is little discernable relationship between the economy and crime.

  5. People don’t feel so invincible during a recession. So they don’t go out partying all the time — less proliferation of / exposure to pathogens. And they aren’t in a fearless state-of-mind while driving — fewer auto-related deaths.

  6. Looks like large part of it can be explained by a five years phase offset.

  7. Following Nanonymous, I wonder how much of this correlation could be traced to coincidental cyclic offsets. E.g., we’re entering a period of low/high mortality because of the economic conditions 20 years ago, or some such, and the epigenetic markers they set in the children who are now 20-25 years old. 
    Occam’s razor, I know, but I don’t think it’s any more speculative than the other ideas floated. 
    I guess the next step would be analyzing which causes of death increased and decreased under economic boom/bust.